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8 Grant Writing Rules: Peer Review Insights

Last summer, I served as a peer reviewer for the Department of Education. The grant budgets averaged $15 million, and their goals included transforming the proficiency scores for every student in a given state. These were some audacious goals! However, serving as a peer reviewer taught me skills that directly translate to successful grant writing. Not only did I see examples of persuasive, well-researched writing, I also saw applications that didn’t follow the directions or compel me as the reader to award points.

The applications came from states around the country, giving me a bird’s eye view of the needs related to each state and the innovations that are being implemented across the country. I saw trends across the states and some stand-out examples of innovation that thrill me as an educator.

As a peer reviewer, I worked as a member of a review team. First, I reviewed each of my assigned grants on my own, providing a score for each section as well as insight into the reason for the score. I then joined a call for each grant with my team and we talked through our individual scoring. Sometimes my insight changed their scores; other times, their insight caused me to change my scores. In the end, I gained insight into grant writing that can help you write effective grant applications that get funded.

Serving as a peer reviewer is a great way to learn the intricacies of a grant so that you can write a successful one yourself. Just think, if you write a grant in the next cycle after peer-reviewing that grant, you are so much more equipped to develop responses that speak to the unwritten goals of the grant.

There was one grant that stood out to me as a perfect example of grant writing. It was compelling. It was clear. I was cheering for it. Then I noticed that they were spending money in a way that the grant didn’t allow. I notified my team leader, and he told me to bring it up in the team call. None of the other peer reviewers had noticed this mistake. I brought it up and referenced the rule that it violated. The grant ended up not being funded. I felt terrible, but that made me think, “Man! I’ve learned so much as a peer reviewer. What else have I learned besides this one: Follow all of the rules of the grant?”

Here are 8 grant writing rules that I learned from being a peer reviewer:

  1. Answer every part of every question. Sometimes grant applications will have 5 questions embedded within one question. Be sure to answer every part. You don’t want your application to be deemed incomplete because you missed one little part of a 5-part question.

  2. Don’t promise the moon! Make sure that every purchase, every program, and every service are ones that you are committed to completing. I’ve had applicants ask me, “What if we change our mind?” My answer? Don’t change your mind unless you have a really good reason. (COVID is a really good reason.) Otherwise, you must be 110% committed to an idea.

  3. Start with the budget. The budget informs the narrative. After all, you are seeking money, so start with the money; then write your narrative. It will help you set your priorities and get a clear picture of programming, services, and costs. All of this will help you develop your goals and how you will monitor the program’s success.

  4. If an item is in the budget, be sure to explain it in the narrative. Think about it proportionately. If you spend a lot of money on a budget item, spend a proportionate amount of time talking about it in your narrative. If you spend a little bit, then be sure to explain why it’s necessary, but you don’t need to spend as much time on it. Don’t think you can sneak unrelated items in. It reduces your credibility and decreases the trust that the reader has in the entire application.

  5. Enlist the help of someone who is not invested in the success of this grant application. Do you have a well-read friend whose opinion you trust? She should be able to read your application and understand it without any explanation from you. If she doesn’t, you have some re-writing to do. The hardest part about this is that you will need to allow yourself the time to make this request, send over the application, and make changes before the due date. It’s definitely worth your while!

  6. Use current research. The rule of thumb is to only reference research that is 3 or fewer years old.

  7. Have empathy for the reader. Present your responses in a way that makes the application welcome to the eye. Bold your main ideas, spell out acronyms (not just one time, but at the beginning of each new section), add tables and graphics if possible.

  8. Demonstrate your dedication to grammar. Be sure to employ all of your grammatical skills, check your spelling, and use appropriate punctuation.

This blog was written by Katy Ridnouer, a Grant Writer, School Start-Up Specialist, and Virtual Assistant Principal.

Need help with winning grant awards? Schedule a free call with Katy today:

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